Ian McNicol and Tom Watson both desperately tried to make jokes about Momentum during their Labour conference ‘prodigal son’ speeches. Here’s mine: the thing about Momentum is that once you have it, it’s hard to stop and hard to steer and for a first-time conference delegate, ****** hard to see where you’re going.
There was no end of advice being handed out by various sub-groups as delegates gathered for each day’s debate, mostly in the form of hastily set-up news sheets. Momentum were notably absent from the growing list of sub-groups who complained about other groups ‘influencing’ delegates…
Free Movement Sell Out!
Thus shrieked the Clarion from the far left, stating that “Momentum and the CLPD shamefully collaborated to undermine the fight to defend free movement…”
Momentum Stitch Up Means no Brexit vote!
Yelled Luke Akehurst from the front page of Labour First on the far right.
Yes, Momentum did advise delegates (those who had asked for their advice and updates) to vote for Housing, the NHS, Social Care and Rail as their debate topics, thus pushing Brexit off the agenda.
Yes, people have more or less been told to lay their Brexit anxieties to one side for the moment, in favour of the most urgent issues not already voted onto the agenda by the TUs.
Housing, the NHS, Social Care and Rail
These are the areas of policy causing the most immediate suffering, danger and frustration to the people of this country – here, now, today and every day. The speeches from the floor suggested they were the ones most members had come to talk about.
We have had assurances, from both Jeremy Corbyn and Kier Starmer, that Labour stands with the EU citizens who wish to remain in the UK – the rest can wait; and anyway, positions on issues about the EU depend very much, from day to day, on how the land lies according to what’s going on in Westminster and in the EU parliament itself.
But that is not the point
Who makes policy?
Policy is not the business of Momentum. To Momentum, policies really are just bargaining chips. That bothered me when we were fighting for our ‘Hastings Rule’ (distinguishing criticism of an apartheid regime from anti-semitism) it will bother me again whenever issues I consider urgent hit debating halls – but that doesn’t mean Momentum’s ‘gone wrong’.
What’s Momentum Doing?
Momentum abandoned some friends of mine in the belief that defending them would harm the drive for a Corbyn-led Labour government.
I think if we had pushed our ‘Hastings Rule’ to a vote, the TUs would have sold us out for the same reason.
It doesn’t matter whether I like it or not, let’s wait and see whether it works.
I am no longer a member of Momentum. I left quite a while back, when the decision making process got beyond my understanding or patience, and I thought why am I giving Jon Lansman’s company a pound a month? But I thanked our lucky stars for Momentum time and again during the GE campaign.
And again, as a first-time delegate to Labour conference, I found Momentum’s delegates’ briefing with Rachel Godfrey-Wood worth ten times the Labour Party one, and calmer and more comprehensible than the CLPD one (I went to all of them so I could make my own mind up about things) and when I was AT conference, I was immensely grateful for Momentum’s regular texts, reminding us (those who chose to give them our phone numbers) where and when votes were, and what was happening next in the hall. They did state how they wished us to vote – but there was a very good reason for that, and it has little to do with policy choices.
All under control?
Momentum are doing precisely what they were formed to do. They are growing and stabilising the new, Corbyn-supporting membership, and helping us to keep our democratic socialist party where it belongs. I am not, as I said, a member of Momentum now. It’s not really a democratic, member-led organisation but it is doing what it was founded to do, and it understands what the people of this country need more than the far left do, who wanted us to vote down the Hastings Rule because it wasn’t wild enough for them, or the Far Right, who called Housing, the NHS, Social Care and Rail “four worthy topics which had less urgency to them”. That is also political manouvering, Mr Akehurst.
So what is the point?
First, we can confidently tell Labour First that Momentum do understand the urgency of the needs of this country – they certainly understand them better than the far left or the far right, who still haven’t quite caught up with the new reality that Jeremy Corbyn spoke of – the new world where the membership, and the urgent needs of our people, are at the centre, are the mainstream, are in fact, at the top of the agenda, every day.
That means we do not need to go to the left or to the right for advice on our policies, and we certainly don’t have to let Momentum, or any other sub-group, tell us what to think. Thanks to a growing and active membership, and thanks to Momentum, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party is where it needs to be. Policies and democratic process are not right yet, not by a long way, but there is no need to wail about the shortcomings of conference as Clarion is doing. Policy and process are now in our hands to re-mould until we decide they’re fit for purpose.